HSBC, Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland have become the latest brands to pull advertising from Google after a Times investigation this week revealed they had been inadvertently funding hate speech videos on YouTube.
The latest revelation from The Times found that some of the world’s largest brands, ranging from HSBC, The Guardian and Sainsbury’s, as well as publicly-funded organisations like Transport for London and the BBC, had been advertising against hate preachers, anti-semites and rape apologists on YouTube.
The government summoned Google to explain why its ads had been running alongside inappropriate video content.
Google had been called out weeks before by The Times’ initial investigation that found household brands had been funding terrorist propaganda and pornography on YouTube.
The latest investigation was tipping point for many advertisers. On Friday (17 March) the government alongside The Guardian, the BBC, Channel 4, L’Oréal, all of whom had also had their ads misplaced, unanimously announced that they would cancel all advertising on Google and YouTube until further notice.
Advertising’s biggest holding groups, including Havas and GroupM, have warned the business - which is tipped to control 40% of the online ad market this year - that stronger safeguards are needed to protect their clients.
Havas Group UK has pressed pause on all budgets going through YouTube and Google Display Network until it is confident the necessary standards are in place. The agency spends about £35m a year on the search engine on behalf of UK-based advertisers.
“Our position will remain until we are confident in the YouTube platform and Google Display Network’s ability to deliver the standards we and our clients expect," said Paul Frampton, chief executive and country manager at Havas UK.
"Our teams are working with the brands we represent to select alternative partners where we are confident of the third party verification and safety guarantees.”
Meanwhile GroupM confirmed to The Drum that it is not advising clients to axe spend, but is instead urging them to be “mindful of the implications and join us in working with Google and others to meet our collective brand safety standards". This includes a series of advisories the media house has launched to steer clients around the risks associated on not just Google or YouTube but also the other global online media owners such as Facebook and Snapchat.
Omnicom Media Group said it was working with its clients on an individual basis to address the immediate situation, but called for a "sustainable solution".
"We are specific about what is and what is not an acceptable environment for our clients – this is not open to interpretation. Google offers highly relevant solutions for many marketers, but it must effectively manage its process to maintain advertiser confidence."
The Times said that Vodafone, Sky and Barclays are also understood to be considering withdrawing their marketing unless reassurances were made about the placement of their ads.
Sky said in a statement to The Times: “It is clearly unacceptable for ads to be appearing alongside inappropriate content and we are talking with Google to understand what they are doing to stop this happening.”
Google hasn’t commented on the individual cases. Ronan Harris, Google's UK managing director, said that it invests “millions of dollars every year and employ[s] thousands of people to stop bad advertising practices".
“Just last year, we removed nearly 2 billion bad ads from our systems, removed over 100,000 publishers from our AdSense program, and prevented ads from serving on over 300 million YouTube videos.”
Harris said that it’s begun a thorough review of its ads policies and brand controls, and “will be making changes in the coming weeks to give brands more control over where their ads appear across YouTube and the Google Display Network".